Football, the world’s most popular sport, carries a legacy of gender exclusion. Women were banned from playing in many jurisdictions and remain largely absent from its leadership. Implicit and/or conscious biases perpetuate the under-development and under-resourcing of the women’s game, and the under-representation of women in decision-making roles. As FIFA acknowledges, “years of institutional neglect and a lack of investment have prevented girls and women from playing the game and from assuming roles in technical, administrative and governance functions. The long-standing lack of women in positions of responsibility in the football community means there have been limited voices to advocate for change” (FIFA Women’s Football Strategy 2018 p4).
In parallel, allegations of corruption have accompanied football, its officials, and its governing bodies (including the international federation, FIFA) for many years, with limited progress or accountability. In May 2015, the raids and arrest of senior FIFA officials triggered a corruption crisis, which provided the impetus for structural change.
In the ensuing chaos, FIFA faced an overwhelming imperative for reform. At FIFA’s Congress in February 2016, a number of Statute amendments were approved, reflecting a growing acknowledgement and commitment to women in football. At the governance level, the amendment specified that members’ legislative bodies: “must be constituted in accordance with the principles of representative democracy and taking into account the importance of gender equality in football” (Art.15(j), FIFA 2016). Further, FIFA’s Objectives were expanded: “to promote the development of women’s football and the full participation of women at all levels of football governance” (FIFA 2016 Art.2(f)); and “to use its efforts to ensure that the game of football is available to and resourced for all who wish to participate, regardless of gender or age (FIFA 2016, Art.2(e)). Six positions were reserved for women on the 37-person FIFA Council, and FIFA’s governance regulations were also amended to embed specific obligations on gender inclusion within the governance system.
This paper explores how these landmark amendments came into existence. It provides an insider’s view as an author, Moya Dodd, was one of the first women on FIFA’s Executive Committee and became “the driving force in the recent push for women within FIFA” (Clarey 2016). She chaired FIFA’s Women’s Football Taskforce which drafted the Women’s Football: 10 Key Development Principles (FIFA WFT 2014). During the corruption crisis of 2015, she submitted reform proposals and led a public ‘#womeninFIFA’ campaign which gave voice to the broader community of support for gender reforms in FIFA. This professional practice autoethnographic research examines the process by which progress towards gender equality was, and can be, achieved.